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Sunday, October 7, 2007

PM 1.0 - Results and Conclusions

It was a good weekend for PM 1.0. It picked 4 meaningful upsets for Saturday (10/6)--a top 15 team losing to a lower or unranked team--and finished 3-1. It only misfired on Syracuse and West Virginia.

Prophetically, it also gave LSU the nod over Florida.

Texas and Oklahoma, despite a tight game from start to finish, did not even go into overtime, let alone violate the rules of the game and finish in a tie.

The model was guided by two basic principles. First, teams that won last week are typically better than teams that lost the week before. It doesn't control for the quality of the opponent in the past week, but, just maybe, we tend to over qualify results based on the strength of schedule, and I can think of two reasons why the quality of the opponent doesn't matter as much as we might assume.

First, football is as much psychological as physical. Mentally, good teams tend to play down to bad opponents and bad teams play up for good opponents--especially in conference play where intimidation is not as much of a factor.

Second, the result of a football game is really the product of the dozens of minute match-ups. I learned this lesson in Little League and have never forgotten it. At the time, our teams was in second place behind the Twins, but a head-to-head gave us one last chance to challenge for the league championship. The Twins were starting their ace, a junk baller named Mark Ramirez. He had a weak fastball, but his curveball had dominated the best hitters in the league.

The year before, though, I made a discovery--Mark tipped off his curveball by his facial expression when he pitched. I was a fastball hitter, so I just sat back and waited for him to groove me a fastball or hang the curve. I finished 3 for 4 (1 HR, 4 RBI) and we won the game--but still finished in second at the end of the year.

In football, the most visible battles are those between receivers and cornerbacks, but linemen are also going head to head. Domination by one, especially if it is the receiver or defensive end, can dramatically affect the outcome of the game. Just ask Winston Justice and Eagle's fans about that. If a team has a lineman that can slow down Glenn Dorsey, the performance of the LSU defense is drastically diminished (though still good). A rating of an offense makes assumptions not only about the typical performance of the unit, but also of each individual player against generic defenses--and no defense is generic.

The second principle guiding PM 1.0 is that there is an advantage of playing at home. Of the 4 upsets picked for this past weekend, the home team won all 4

Home field advantage varies both with the travel experience and the "rowdiness" of the crowd. In fact, I believe we often over emphasize the importance of a crowd. Just think about how you feel after a 4 hour flight--flying and bus travel have real, measurable physical consequences. Unfortunately, I don't have data on the length of the flight, the hotel accommodations of the team, or measures of the sodium levels of key players prior to game time so I will have to make generic assumptions about the effect of playing on the road. But it is obvious that playing at home helps teams win games.

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